By REBECCA ISENHART
NISKAYUNA — Mark Frontera has always been enthusiastic about his work at GE Global Research in Niskayuna, but in late 2012, he learned something that changed his approach to it: His younger son, Adam, had a neuroblastoma.
Frontera had been working on medical imaging technology at GE for about 10 years when he got the difficult news that Adam, then 4, had stage IV, high-risk cancer. It manifested in a grapefruit-sized tumor near his kidney and other, smaller ones throughout his body.
Breathe easy: Adam is almost 7 now, and his cancer is in remission. Though not out of the woods entirely, the Ballston Spa family, including Adam’s mom, Tara, who grew up in Niskayuna, and his big brother, 9-year-old Joshua, feels hopeful about Adam’s health.
But Frontera, who manages GE’s Radiation Systems Lab, said the way he approaches his work will never look the same.
“We’re responsible for the technology that might come out in five to 10 years’ time,” Frontera said. His team at GE combs through new ideas and trends to see how they can be used.
Though the machines he’s personally worked on haven’t been adopted into widespread use yet, he often saw familiar equipment while his son was going through treatments at Albany Medical Center and through Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.
“We’ve come across a lot of the products that my colleagues and friends have worked on. I try to snap a picture and text it to them,” Frontera said. “It makes me really proud of the group that we have in the area.
“And also I have been really passionate about letting the guys and the girls know who worked on this project, ‘Hey, look, this is not just your job. It’s really influencing families,’ ” he added. “A lot of hope [is] generated from the work that they’ve done.”
Since Adam’s cancer went into remission, Frontera has told his son’s story many times, often on his company’s website. GE even hired an ad agency to make a video about the Frontera family’s unique experience. But during the nerve-fraying 18 months of treatment, it wasn’t so easy to talk about.
“At the time when we went through the initial diagnosis, it was really hard to keep that community of friends and family updated without having that be a full-time responsibility,” Frontera said.
To help prevent the family from having to answer difficult questions over and over, a neighbor started a blog called Aces for Adam, which chronicled the youngest Frontera’s journey from hospital to hospital. The website eventually became much more: an opportune place for the family to launch fundraising efforts to help other families battling cancer in Boston and Albany.
“It really grew in popularity as Adam’s care went on,” Frontera said of the blog.
Now that Adam’s first treatment has been labeled a success, the family is hoping for a second, more permanent milestone.
“He was given what they call ‘No evidence of disease,’ ” Frontera said. “You have another waiting period where you’re looking to see whether the front line treatment works long term.”
Therapies for recurring neuroblastoma are less reliable than the first line of treatment, so it’s not an easy thing to wait for.
“Basically we’re sitting there being like, ‘Wow, we just had this incredibly terrible two years and we have this incredibly uncertain future. What can we do to kind of cope, and what could we do that would be productive?’ ”
Aces for Adam was the answer to Frontera’s question. Together, the family’s network of supporters has raised over $22,000 for the Jimmy Fund, which benefits Dana-Farber. The family also partners with St. Baldrick’s to benefit cancer patients at Albany Medical Center, and donates small tokens of support like gas cards to families whose children are still fighting cancer.
Even Adam himself, who loves to play soccer, practice taekwondo, and attend school with his friends at Shenendehowa, is in on the fundraising goal. February 13 was his 100th day of first grade, and as part of a class writing exercise, he had to imagine how he would use $100.
“I would donate it to Dana Farber,” he wrote.
To keep tabs on Adam or help out with the Fronteras’ fundraising goal, visit facebook.com/AcesForAdam.